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The African Union (AU) embarked on a new chapter of moving forward the gender equality agenda in Africa, following the expressed commitment taken by Heads of State and Government on gender parity. In July 2004, the AU, under the leadership of Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairperson of the AU Commission, adopted the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA) at its Summit meeting in Addis Ababa.
For the first time in history, a continental organization took ownership of gender mainstreaming at the highest level, prioritizing issues such HIV/AIDS, the recruitment of child soldiers, and the implementation of gender-specific economic, social, and legal measures, amongst others. The Declaration calls for the continued implementation of gender parity in the AU and at national level, the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the protection of women against violence and discrimination.
Furthermore, African leaders dedicated a large portion of the Summit to a dialogue on gender equality and incorporated the African Women’s Committee on Peace and Development (AWCPD) into its mechanisms – another milestone for women’s effective participation was achieved, building upon the campaign for gender mainstreaming and the principles of women, peace and security as enshrined in Resolution 1325 (2000) of the United Nations Security Council.
The work to mainstream gender in continental organizations has been, and continues to be, a long process. For years, Femmes Africa Solidarité (FAS) in collaboration with AWCPD has worked to bring a gender perspective to the continent’s agenda, specifically as the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was transformed into the AU. This work began in Lomé, Togo in July 2000 with the adoption of the Constitutive Act of the AU and continued thereafter with a series of meetings aimed at pushing forward the agenda of increasing the inclusion of women at the decision-making level.
Comprising about 55 national and international organizations, the Gender Is My Agenda Campaign (GIMAC) aims to create a space for civil society to monitor the implementation of the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA), mainly by holding bi-annual Pre-Summit Consultative Meetings to the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government.
Capital Spoke to Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, Founder and CEO of Rozaria Memorial Trust, An organization that focuses on girls and young women and who is also the African Union ambassador on ending child marriage.
Capital: Tell us about GIMAC and what it has done to push the rights of girls and women?
Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda: GIMAC has been an excellent platform to bring the voices from rural communities and to bring physically the girls and young women themselves to discuss the issues they are facing and to help them see that there is a whole world out there and they can be a part of it. Giving them the opportunity to sit at a table together with policy makers and be able to express their views, their needs and what they believe is a solution for the challenges they face.
That has been a wonderful experience and it has been very moving to see policy makers and ministers taking some of those recommendations.
Capital: How would you say Africa has progressed when it comes to the rights of women and girls?
Gumbonzvanda: We have fairly good policies, some efforts are there but honestly we need more. The fact that in Africa we have the highest prevalence of HIV among adolescents, child marriage it just all shows that we need to do much more around laws, around norms but also around the empowerment the girls.
Capital: You have said that we are not talking and doing enough about HIV, how dangerous has this become?
Gumbonzvanda: It has become dangerous; we still have millions of African people living with HIV and others getting infected. It means when we don’t talk about it there is less prioritization and less actions of prevention and less offers for treatment.
It means we end up carrying the responsibility. So people living with HIV need treatment, they need the right nutrition, this is much more so with the high number of people that are born with HIV or young people living with the diseases.
So it is a critical issue for us and we would like to a sustained focus on the interventions of HIV.
Capital: There was an incident in Tanzania where the president said that pregnant girls should not be allowed back to school after having a baby. What do you say about that? How can we progress if there is this mentality within governments?
Gumbonzvanda: It is a step back in progress and we are really looking to the president of Tanzania to reaffirm the commitments of his country and himself as the president, to girls’ education and to protecting the rights of every girl.
We hope it was the slip of the tongue, we would really like to see Tanzania step up to re affirming to girls’ rights, and empowerment because there is no Africa without its daughters.
Capital: What about with regards to the African Union, how would you review the organizations’ efforts in pushing its member states to prioritize the rights of women and girls?
Gumbonzvanda: I have been working as the AU goodwill ambassador and I can speak confidently on the issue of child marriage for example. Since the launching of the campaign of ending child marriage in 2014, 28 countries have launched action plans and a number of countries have started to review their laws and there is an effort also from civil societies as well.
So we can see a lot more action going on related to child marriage but it needs to be sustained because yes, awareness is important but it is not sufficient if it does not change behavior and if we don’t reach a critical number of the girls impacted in communities. So yes, there is a good effort but we need to do more in sustainability.